From the outset of the Internet, skeptics have sounded the alarm against big brother: ‘We can’t trust this new-fangled network!’. With every advance of digital technology and increased connection, the more paranoid among us trumpeted a loss of freedom, a loss of accountability or repercussions when the government uses that data inappropriately. It turns out, the skeptics were right in a lot of ways. It’s just that it’s not only governments we should be worried about; it’s private companies too.
It’s worth noting from the outset that Apple and Facebook are dramatically different enterprises, and comparing them is often trickier than maybe most pundits would like to admit. One is primarily a hardware company that happens to dabble in content; the other is a social content platform that hasn’t really made any inroads into hardware at all. Apple deals in iPhones, MacBooks, AirPods and Watches; Facebook in clicks and likes and shares. But, they are also two of the largest tech companies in the world and they battle on innumerable fronts at seemingly all times. And Facebook has an Apple problem at the moment.
Facebook might not have started out this way, but it most certainly now has one core product to offer — its users’ data. The data it gathers, analyzes and leverages on behalf of advertisers is the core offering. Yes, it provides an awesomely powerful social network replete with news, photos, videos, etc. But the monetization thereof is predicated upon Facebook tracking your digital movements, monitoring your interests and purchases, and then selling that data to advertisers so those advertisers can talk to you inside Facebook’s walled garden. And the only way Facebook has the data to sell is that you give it to them willingly. You might not have known that’s exactly what you were signing up for, but we all gave Facebook the data it needed to profile and monetize each of us. And when Facebook misbehaves with that data? Or is reckless with it? Or simply gets taken advantage of? Well, then you have a lot of consumer outrage on your hands.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it seems as if Facebook and its mercurial founder have been taking one L after another, while Apple seeks to brand itself as the anti-Facebook.
Apple has an advantage over Facebook when it comes to selling users’ data because Apple doesn’t need to do it to make beaucoups of money — they have a multi-billion dollar hardware business propping up its balance sheet. But, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, he started loudly and publicly pounding Facebook for its security breach. A good summation of his MSNBC appearance by The Verge:
“Services that ‘[traffic] in your personal lives’ are invading peoples’ privacy and emphasizing that Apple sees privacy as a ‘human right’ and a ‘civil liberty.’ He also said that he finds it ‘creepy’ when ‘all of a sudden something is chasing me around the web,’ referring to sophisticated ad targeting.”
Apple has said time and again they don’t traffic in user data. They even have made quite the stink at resisting the FBI’s overtures to require Apple to unlock iPhones when the Bureau wants to see what’s inside. Apple is placing a big bet on being the anti-Facebook when it comes to user data, and as users seem to be more and more concerned with their personal data and how it’s handled, that bet seems to be paying off. But it rests on the basic question, can we really trust Apple? With as much noise as Cook & Co. are making about user data security, if the answer to that question ever turns out to be ‘no’, Apple could be in a world of hurt for being hypocrites. But for now? It looks like Facebook’s Apple problem might just be legit.